One of the key ingredients to marital bliss is money, though not necessarily in the way you might think.
Couples being on the same page with financial issues can prevent a lot of stress down the line. In a long term relationship, you’ll likely to go through some major financial decisions together over the years, such as home ownership, retirement accounts, what to do if one of you decides to go back to school, and so on. It can be a difficult conversation to initiate, but worthwhile if you consider the stress that might snowball after years of not having a discussion about money issues.
As we head into the Valentine’s Day festivities of love, we have some ideas for handling this practical part of life together: your financial lives.
Start Talking. Talking about money as a couple can be daunting, but that’s not a great excuse for putting it off. If you’re having an especially difficult time getting the conversation started, one thing you can do is ease into it with a game. This quiz from The Motley Fool might seem a bit silly (it is, after all, a financial version of The Newlywed Game), but can alleviate any tension around the exercise. If you feel like committing to more of a program together, something like a class from Dave Ramsey can give you a structure to talk about financial issues over time. However you start the conversation, just starting it will help a lot.
Share your goals. What are you working toward financially? Saving for a down payment on a house? Paying off a mortgage or student loan? Make sure to voice your personal financial goals so that you are both on the same page… and set a goal or two to work towards together.
Be aware of financial behavior. Are you an impulse shopper? Do you create and stick to a strict budget? Do you know where most of your money goes? Financial history can be a sensitive topic, especially for those who have issues with credit or debt. Before discussing your partner’s financial behaviors, take some time to analyze your own habits and see where you can improve.
Schedule a time for a monthly meeting. After discussing goals and financial behavior, schedule a meeting at regular intervals. A great ‘agenda’ for this meeting is a monthly budget with time for discussion. This meeting time keeps the conversation going and encourages you to check in with each other. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of budget templates out there for you to work with, like these from Budgets Are Sexy.)
Remember, where you are today isn’t going to be where you are in five years (or even one year). There are changes in jobs, getting a debt paid off, new cars, etc. that will arise. The bigger life changes are easier to navigate if they’re incorporated into an ongoing conversation. This also ensures that both partners are participating in financial affairs, rather than placing the pressure on one person (or in some cases, neither person).
Figure Out Spending Money. Different couples handle spending money differently. Some merge their bank accounts completely, some keep them separate, and some create a combination of the two. This decision is entirely up to your preferences as a couple, and may depend on differences in salary and how mutual expenses are handled. Understanding whatever system works in your relationship (and why you use it) will smooth over a lot of potentially awkward conversations and situations.
Save for the Future. Discussing everyday or month-to-month spending is important, but don’t forget to carve out some time during your check-in to discuss long-term goals. This includes things like establishing an emergency fund or vacation fund, figuring out how to maximize retirement options and more.
Navigating finances as a couple can be tricky, but it’s worthwhile. Here’s to loving… not just each other but less stress and more saving!